The United States has more guns than people and more gun violence than any Western democracy. Scholars in diverse fields interrogate why 21st century Americans support gun ownership and valorize vigilantism even as they fear gun violence. Many question how the NRA – National Rifle Association – has successfully lobbied for radical gun laws that most Americans don’t support.
In Race, Rights, and Rifles: The Origins of the NRA and Contemporary Gun Culture (U Chicago Press, 2023), Dr. Alexandra Filindra highlights political culture. She argues that the NRA depends upon political narratives that can be traced back to the American Revolution. Rather than focus on the constitution, Lockean liberalism, rule of law, or individual rights, she argues that the American Revolution depended upon classical republican ideals – especially the martial virtue of the citizen-soldier – that became foundational to American democracy. American gun culture fuses the republican citizen-soldier with White male supremacy to create what Filindra calls ascriptive martial republicanism. Her book demonstrates how the militarized understandings of political membership prominent in NRA narratives and embraced by many White Americans fit within this broader revolutionary ideology.
Even as contemporary NRA narratives embrace 18th and 19th century versions of ascriptive martial republicanism, the NRA radically decouples political virtue and military service by associating virtue with the consumer act of purchasing a firearm. Rather than emphasizing military service or preparedness, consumer choice defines the politically virtuous citizen.
White Amerians embrace this combination of civic republicanism and White male supremacy but Filindra’s research shows that they also hold a competing form of republicanism (inclusive republicanism) that includes a commitment to peaceful political engagement, civic forms of voluntarism and participation, and a strong belief in multiculturalism.
In the podcast, Susan mentions previous podcasts on Katherine Franke’s Repair: Redeeming the Promise of Abolition and Drew McKevitt’s Gun Country: Gun Capitalism, Culture, and Control in Cold War America.
Dr. Alexandra Filindra is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago. She specializes in American gun politics, immigration policy, race and ethnic politics, public opinion, and political psychology.
George Lobis served as the editorial assistant for this podcast.
Susan Liebell is a Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.